OPM retirement backlog reaches 18-month high

Just over 9,200 federal employees filed for retirement benefits in the shortest month of the year, enough to swell the government’s backlog of retirement claims to its highest point in more than 18 months.

The Office of Personnel Management released Thursday its monthly report. It shows the backlog topped 24,000 applications in February, a number last seen in the summer of 2013.

Source: OPM. Click here to see a larger version of this graph.

The agency did not meet its expectations for the month, both in terms of the number of claims it received and those it processed. It expected to get 9,700 and process 9,800. In reality, it received 500 fewer. It processed nearly 2,000 fewer.

Inventory usually peaks in February because of the large number of federal employees who retire at year’s end. It’s worth noting, the number of people who applied for retirement this February is a good deal fewer than the number of people who did so at the same time last year: 9,218 compared to 12,025.

OPM began releasing monthly reports in 2012 after implementing a new strategy to eliminate its backlog of claims. Technology modernization efforts had failed so the agency turned to a low-tech solution that relied on more staff working longer hours. At the time, the backlog stood at 62,000. It took OPM more than 150 days to process the average retirement benefit claim.

OPM is making much better time nowadays. Four out of five claims now take less than 60 days to process. Yet the agency has repeatedly failed to meet the deadlines it set for clearing the backlog. The agency has cited budget constraints, with restraints on overtime and temporary help. It now predicts that it still will have a backlog of more than 10,000 cases by the end of August.

OPM expects to make some headway in March. It is predicting that it will receive 6,400 applications for retirement and that it will process 11,000 this month.

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